Legal gambling is the big sports story of 2018by J.W. Miller on 05/21/18
I went out to play golf this morning before sitting down to regale you about one sporting topic or another. I’m not a bad golfer for an old guy. Failing to break 90 ruins my whole day, and it happens more often than I would like. Today’s round started out like one of those days. On the first hole, I followed a good drive with a wedge that hooked perfectly onto that 2-inch outside edge of the cart path that propelled the ball into a menacing stream. Triple-bogey. The next hole, a Par 5, started out much the same with a good drive, followed by a 3-wood that caught the right-side slope and rolled out of bounds. I took a drop and hit a majestic 8-iron onto the green, about 12 feet from the pin. But our normally bikini waxed greens today putted like molten lava. Double-bogey. I hoped for some relief on a Par 3, but I bladed my pitching wedge over the green to the edge of the woods. A comeback chip was too strong and bounced off the green. Another triple-bogey.
And that sets up our topic of the day. If you are watching a golf tournament and see one lonely golfer suffer such a start, you might be able to do something about it. You can pick up your cellphone, dial the Sadistic Sports Betting parlor and wager a sum on whether the slappy will repeat his performance on the next hole or will pull out of his misery with a shot that nestles two inches from the hole. You don’t bet on golf? How about betting on whether Drew Brees will complete his first pass of the game or whether Anthony Davis will have more blocks than assists in a game or even whether LSU will score in the second quarter against Alabama?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, sports betting has arrived, and the possibilities are mind-boggling thanks to a Supreme Court ruling last week that struck down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling outside of Las Vegas. The past week, the marketplace has been roiling with which states will be the first to bring sports betting to the hinterlands. Most Supreme Court rulings generate joy from supporters and promises of doom from detractors, and the prospect of legalized sports betting is no different. To much of the country, the idea of gambling and placing bets on sports or anything else is seen as immoral or a provocative lure to those least able to afford it. These are the same people who have long decried bingo night at the local parish hall.
Many states legalized casinos years ago and have directed a portion of the profits to worthy endeavors such as education or public pensions. But you must travel to a casino to pull the one-armed bandit or shoot craps. Technology has made the prospect of placing bets on sporting events from your living room or even from the event itself too easy. Critics say that instant access to gambling will invite more people who shouldn’t gamble to do it anyway. As Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal wrote last week, such people believe “the annihilation of civilization will be swift and severe.” Gay then adds “Or maybe it will be pretty normal.”
One reason for the ho-hum view is that sports betting will be enhanced by the different sports and might become no more than a supercharged version of Fantasy Football. The NBA already has jumped on board, and Commissioner Adam Silver has expressed the opinion that instant access to gambling could help NBA fans become more engaged with their favorite team. Predictably, the NFL has been less giddy about the prospects, but you can bet – a figure of speech – that Roger Goodell already has designated some of his trusted aides to investigate how legalized gambling will pay.
I think back about my years in the League office around Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who feared the negative effects of gambling. Rozelle’s main concern was “the integrity of the game,” which meant the public assurance that every game was played fairly and without the taint of illicit influences on the outcome. This is ancient history to any fan coming of age after 1980, but Rozelle suspended stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for a season for betting on games. Baseball came down even harder on Pete Rose, suspending him for life for betting on games. So flash forward to today. Will today’s major sports – or even the pious NCAA – come down hard on their employees or players for engaging in a legalized activity?
There are many other permutations of the main issue at work here. How will the leagues handle it? Which state legislatures will jump on board quickly? Will online access be available across state lines? Will the news media create programming to help the gambler as they did with Fantasy leagues? How many parents will give their sons a Playboy Magazine to keep him away from placing bets on his IPhone?
We are only one week into this new frontier, but I’ll give you odds right now. The way leagues present sports and the way fans watch will change. Legalized sports gambling will become the biggest sports story of 2018 and maybe even beyond.